The No. 10 Michigan wrestling team’s 19-13 win over No. 7 Illinois could be considered an upset of sorts – but it shouldn’t be. With four returning All-Americans and a boatload of young talent, the Wolverines should have dominated the inexperienced Fighting Illini team on Friday night.
But Michigan needed a 3-2 win from veteran 125-pounder A.J. Grant in the final match to pull off the “upset” over Illinois.
“I don’t really consider it an upset,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “I thought our team was very capable of beating Illinois.”
The Wolverines jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in their Big Ten opener. The match started at 133 pounds where Michigan’s Foley Dowd – ranked No. 7 in the country – continued his winning ways, beating No. 13 Mark Jayne. At 141 pounds, Michigan’s Clark Forward got some revenge against Cal Ferry. Forward routed Ferry, 7-1, avenging a loss to the freshman earlier in the season. With the momentum on his side, freshman phenom Ryan Churella picked apart Illinois’ Tony Pedrosa.
Pedrosa scored the first takedown, but it was all Churella from then on. Churella scored five sets of near fall points to win a 17-6 major decision.
“We got off to a great start with those matches at 133, 141 and 149 pounds,” McFarland said.
After Churella’s impressive performance, Michigan’s Ryan Bertin did something very unexpected. He lost. The usually reliable Bertin, who recently returned from injury, lost a 3-2 decision to freshman Alex Tirapelle.
Bertin, one of Michigan’s best wrestlers from the neutral position, could not muster a takedown on the eighth-ranked Tirapelle.
“He was a little disappointed,” McFarland said. “He’s just getting his confidence back. Anytime you’re off the mat for six weeks, it’s tough. He just needs a couple more weeks of practice under his belt.”
Senior Mike Kulczycki, an All-American in 2001 at 149 pounds, returned to the lineup in the 165-pound spot last week. Against Illinois, he was “thrown into the fire,” according to McFarland against top-ranked Matt Lackey. Lackey put on a takedown clinic for the crowd, scoring four of them in the first period en route to a 20-6 victory over Kulczycki.
“Mike obviously wrestled a really tough kid,” McFarland said. “He lost a scramble towards the end and gave up five points. The match would’ve been a lot closer otherwise.”
With wins by No. 5 Brian Glynn and Pete Friedl, Illinois captured a 13-10 lead over the Wolverines. Senior Kyle Smith, who has struggled recently, began Michigan’s late surge with a 4-1 win against No. 20 Tyrone Byrd.
Michigan freshman standout Greg Wagner then gave the Wolverines the lead with a 6-2 decision over Chris Little. Wagner, ranked eighth in the country at heavyweight, scored two takedowns in the third to give Michigan the 16-13 lead.
“(Wagner) is a smart kid. He’s done a great job, and he is getting better week by week, which is what’s most important,” McFarland said.
At this point, Illinois needed a win to tie or win the match. It had a good shot with No. 10 Kyle Ott, a freshman, matched up against Michigan’s Grant. Grant, a senior, was down 2-1 in the third period, but was able to score a takedown to win the match and the dual meet for the Wolverines.
“Third-period conditioning won the match for us,” McFarland said. “We took a lot of those matches in the third.”